Wisconsin volleyball – the reigning Big Ten champions – released its conference schedule yesterday. The Big Ten is one of, if not the most, competitive conferences in women’s college volleyball. Despite the stiff competition, UW has established itself as a force to be reckoned with in the conference. The Badgers have won the Big Ten title each of the past five seasons – becoming only the second school in conference history to win the championship five-straight seasons. Head coach Kelly Sheffield will look to lead the Badgers through another grueling conference schedule this season and come out on top.
After mulling over the schedule, here are three key takeaways:
Wisconsin Volleyball Will Play Minnesota Only Once
Wisconsin-Minnesota is a rivalry that transcends across sports. From the battle for Paul Bunyan’s Axe to national championship contests in women’s hockey, Badgers vs. Gophers is a rivalry that knows no bounds. The Border Battle is just as meaningful in volleyball, with each match between the rival carrying tremendous stakes in the conference title race. Surprisingly, however, that high-stakes match will only be played once this season.
For the first time since 2014, the Border Battle appears only once on the conference schedule. Minnesota and Wisconsin only played one match during the 2021 Spring Semester season. A second match was scheduled but canceled due to COVID-19 concerns within the Gophers’ program. This year, the Badgers and Gophers will play on Sunday, October 29th, at the UW Field House.
Frankly, Wisconsin and Minnesota only playing once this season is a loss for the Big Ten. These are two of the premier programs in the conference. Since the 2014 season, only twice has the Big Ten champion not been Minnesota or Wisconsin. Each program finished outside the top three in the conference standings in that stretch only once. Unfortunately, with USC and UCLA on the horizon, Bucky and Goldy only meeting once a season might become a more common occurrence.
How Many Back-to-Backs Will Wisconsin Volleyball Play?
Each team in the Big Ten will play two conference matches per week. The conference scheduled matches primarily on Wednesdays, Fridays, Saturdays, and Sundays throughout September, October, and November. The schedule requires teams to play on back-to-back days throughout the season, but teams have a different number of back-to-back matches.
Wisconsin volleyball will not play on consecutive days until November, far later in the season than any other team in the conference. Despite not playing their first back-to-back until late in the season, the Badgers will play on consecutive days three weekends in a row to close the regular season. UW will play those Friday and Saturday matches at Penn State and Maryland, at Purdue and Indiana, and host Nebraska and Iowa to close the season.
Despite the scheduling quirk to close the season, the Big Ten gave Wisconsin volleyball a favorable number of back-to-back contests. UW’s three back-to-backs tie for the fewest in the conference with Illinois and Northwestern. Iowa, Penn State, and Michigan State tied for the most scheduled back-to-backs, with six each.
Hello Wildcats… Goodbye Wildcats
In addition to Minnesota, Northwestern is among the six opponents Wisconsin volleyball will only play once this season (the other four are Michigan, Rutgers, Michigan State, and Penn State). UW and NU will open their Big Ten schedules in Evanston on Friday, September 22nd.
The Wildcats and Badgers will meet very early in the season. They will not meet again until a potential NCAA Tournament match (an unlikely outcome since Northwestern has not reached the NCAA Tournament since 2010). The ‘Cats are likely thankful they can get their matchup with UW out of the way early. Wisconsin has not lost a match against Northwestern since 2012.
Wisconsin volleyball previously announced its nine-game non-conference schedule, which includes games against four opponents that finished in last year’s American Volleyball Coaches Association top-25.